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When Henry VIII. ascended the English throne, though he styled himself the Lord of Ireland, he could claim little authority in the country. The neglect of his predecessors, the quarrels between the English colonists, especially between the Geraldines and the Butlers, and the anxiety of both parties to ally themselves with the Irish princes, had prevented the permanent conquest of the country. Outside the very limited area of the Pale English sheriffs or judges dare not appear to administer English law; no taxes were paid to the crown; no levies of troops could be raised, and the colonists could only hope for comparative peace by paying an annual tribute to the most powerful of their Irish neighbours. The barony of Lecale in Down paid ￡40 a year to O'Neill of Clandeboy, Louth paid a similar sum to O'Neill of Tyrone, Meath paid ￡300 a year to O'Connor of Offaly, Kildare ￡20 to O'Connor, Wexford ￡40 to the McMurroughs, Kilkenny and Tipperary ￡40 to O'Carroll of Ely, Limerick city and county ￡80 to the O'Briens, Cork ￡40 to the McCarthys, and so low had the government fallen that it consented to pay eighty marks yearly from the royal treasury to McMurrough.
During the early years of his reign Henry VIII. was so deeply interested in his schemes for subduing France and in continental affairs generally that he could give little attention to his dominions in Ireland. Sometimes the Earl of Kildare was superseded by the appointment of the Earl of Surrey (1520), and of Sir Piers Butler, the claimant to the Earldom of Ormond (1521), and of Sir William Skeffington (1529), but as a general rule Kildare, whether as Deputy or as a private citizen, succeeded in dictating the policy of the government. By his matrimonial alliances with the Irish chieftains, the O'Neills, the MacCarthys, O'Carroll of Ely, and O'Connor of Offaly, his bargains with many of the other Irish and Anglo-Irish nobles, and by his well-known prowess in the field, he had succeeded in making himself much more powerful in Ireland than the English sovereign. But his very success had raised up against him a host of enemies, led by his old rival the Earl of Ormond, and supported by a large body of ecclesiastics, including Allen, the Archbishop of Dublin, and of lay nobles. Various charges against him were forwarded to England, and in 1534 he was summoned to London to answer for his conduct. Before setting out on his last journey to London he appointed his son, Lord Thomas Fitzgerald (Silken Thomas), then a youth of twenty-one, to take charge of the government. The latter had neither the wisdom nor the experience of his father. Rumours of his father's execution, spread by the enemies of the Geraldines, having reached his ears, despite the earnest entreaties of Archbishop Cromer of Armagh, he resigned the sword of state, and called upon his retainers to avenge the death of the Earl of Kildare (1534).
The rebellion of Silken Thomas forced Henry VIII. to undertake a determined campaign for the conquest of Ireland. His hopes of winning glory and territory in France had long since disappeared. He was about to break completely with Rome, and there was some reason to fear that Charles V. might make a descent upon the English coasts with or without the aid of the King of France. Were an invasion from the Continent undertaken before the conquest of Ireland had been finished it might result in the complete separation of that kingdom from England, and its transference to some foreign power. It was well known that some of the Irish princes were in close correspondence with France and Scotland, that Silken Thomas was hoping for the assistance of the Emperor, and that once England had separated herself definitely from the Holy See, many of the Irish and Anglo-Irish nobles might be induced to make common cause with the Pope against a heretical king. Hitherto the king's only legal title to the Lordship of Ireland was the supposed grant of Adrian IV., and as such a grant must necessarily lapse on account of heresy and schism a new title must be sought for in the complete conquest of the country. The circumstances were particularly favourable for undertaking such a work. The royal treasury was well supplied; England had little to fear for the time being from Francis I. or Charles V., as the energies of both were required for the terrible struggle between France and the Empire; the friends of Ormond and the enemies of Kildare, both Irish and Anglo- Irish, could be relied upon to lend their aid, and even the Irish princes friendly to Kildare might be conciliated by fair promises of reward. Relying upon all these considerations Henry VIII. determined to reduce Ireland to submission, and at the same time to put an end to its religious and political dependence on the Holy See.
William Skeffington was re-appointed Deputy and sent over to quell the rebellion, together with Sir Piers Butler who, in consideration of the bestowal upon him of the territories of the former Earls of Ormond, agreed to resist the usurped jurisdiction of the Pope especially in regard to appointments to benefices (1534). The campaign opened early in 1535, but as the new deputy was physically unable to command a great military expedition, Lord Leonard Grey, the brother-in-law of the Earl of Kildare, was soon entrusted with the conduct of the war. Though in the beginning Silken Thomas had met with success, the news that the rumoured execution of the Earl was untrue, the murder of the Archbishop of Dublin by some of the Geraldine followers, and the excommunication that such a deed involved, disheartened his army and caused many of those upon whom he relied to desert him. At last in August 1535 he surrendered to Lord Grey who seems to have given him a promise of his life, but Henry VIII. was not the man to allow any obligations of honour to interfere with his policy. After having been kept in close confinement in the Tower for months he and his five uncles were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn (1537). The king's only regret was that the young heir to the Earldom of Kildare was allowed to escape, and the failure to capture his own sister's son was one of the gravest charges brought afterwards against Lord Leonard Grey. As it was, the rebellion was suppressed; O'More of Leix, O'Carroll of Ely, O'Connor of Offaly, and the other Irish adherents of the Geraldines were reduced to submission, and thereby the work of conquest was well begun.鈥淪鈥s鈥淚
In 1536, as a reward for the services he had rendered and in the hope that he would carry the work of subjugation to a successful conclusion, Leonard Grey was appointed Deputy. Henry VIII. had separated himself definitely from the Catholic Church and had induced a large number of English bishops, ecclesiastics, and nobles to reject the jurisdiction of the Pope in favour of royal supremacy. In England he owed much of his success to the presence of Cranmer in the metropolitan See of Canterbury, and to the skill with which his clever councillors manipulated Parliament so as to ensure its compliance with the royal wishes. Hence, when he determined to detach Ireland from its allegiance to Rome, he resolved to utilise the Archbishop of Dublin and the Irish Parliament. Fortunately for him Dublin was then vacant owing to the murder of Archbishop Alen during the Geraldine rebellion (1534). After careful consideration he determined to confer the archbishopric on George Browne, an Augustinian friar, who had merited the royal favour by preaching so strongly against Henry's marriage with Catharine of Aragon that most of the congregation rose in a body and left the church. According to the imperial ambassador it was Browne who officiated at the secret marriage of the king to Anne Boleyn, and it was on that account he was created provincial of the English Augustinians and joined in a commission with Dr. Hilsey, the provincial of the Dominicans, for a visitation of the religious houses in England. The new archbishop received his commission from the king without reference to the Pope, and his consecration from Cranmer (1536). Browne was in every way a worthy representative of the new spiritual dictator and of the "new learning." His nomination to Dublin was condemned by the people of Lincoln because he had abandoned the Christian faith. Hardly had he arrived in Dublin when he found himself at loggerheads with Lord Grey, who treated him with studied contempt and took very violent measures to cool his religious ardour. He was assailed by his royal spiritual head for his arrogance and inefficiency, and warned to take heed lest he who had made him a bishop might unmake him. By his fellow-labourers and associates in the work of spreading the gospel, Staples of Meath and Bale of Ossory, he was denounced as a heretic, an avaricious dissembler, a drunkard, and a profligate, who preached only two sermons with which the people became so familiar that they knew what to expect once he had announced his text.鈥淪鈥s鈥淚
Before the arrival of Browne in Ireland careful steps were taken by the deputy and the Earl of Ormond to ensure that only trustworthy men should be elected as "knights of the shire," while the lawyers were hard at work both in England and Ireland drafting the laws that Parliament was expected to ratify. The assembly opened on Monday, 1st May, at Dublin, was adjourned (31 May) to Kilkenny, then to Cashel (28 July), then to Limerick (2 Aug.), from which place it returned once more to Dublin. The next session opened in September (1536), and after several short sessions and long adjournments it was prorogued finally in December 1537. As far as can be seen no representatives attended this parliament except from the Pale and from the territories under the influence of the Earl of Ormond and his adherents. It was in no sense an Irish Parliament, as not a single Irish layman took part in it, nor could it be described accurately even as a Parliament of Leinster. It is generally assumed that together with the Act of Attainder against the party of Kildare all the legislation passed already in England, including the Act of Succession and of Royal Supremacy, the Acts against the authority of the Bishop of Rome, against appeals to Rome, and transferring to the king the First Fruits, etc., were passed always immediately and with very little opposition except a strong protest lodged by Archbishop Cromer of Armagh. But an examination of the correspondence that passed between the authorities in Dublin and in London reveals a very different story.鈥淪鈥s鈥淚
It is true that on the 17th May Brabazon informed Cromwell that the Act of Attainder against Kildare, the Acts of Succession, of Royal Supremacy and of First Fruits had already passed the Commons, and that on the 1st June the Deputy wrote that all these, including the Act against Appeals to Rome, had passed the Parliament, and that in the same month Cromwell expressed his thanks to some of the Irish officials for having secured the assent of Parliament to all these measures. But in spite of these assurances of victory secured before Parliament had been a month in session, there must have occurred some very serious hitch in the programme. In October 1536, Robert Cowley wrote to Cromwell to complain that certain acts had been rejected owing to the action of some "ringleaders or bellwethers," who had decided to send a deputation to England to argue stiffly against them, that Patrick Barnewall, the king's sergeant was on the side of the discontents, and that he declared in the House of Commons that "he would not grant that the king had as much spiritual power as the Bishop of Rome, or that he could dissolve religious houses." As nothing could be done, the session was adjourned till February (1537), when the Deputy announced that owing to the confusion caused in the Commons by the reported return of Silken Thomas, and to the boldness of the spirituality on account of the religious rebellion which had taken place in England, no measures could be passed, and a further adjournment was necessary. When Parliament met again matters were still going badly for the king. The Deputy informed Cromwell that the spirituality was still obstinate; that the spiritual peers refused to debate any bill till they should receive satisfactory assurances that the spiritual proctors or representatives of the clergy should be allowed to vote, and that as the Parliament had refused to pass the bill imposing a tax of one-twentieth of their annual revenues on the holders of benefices, he was obliged to adjourn till July. He warned Cromwell that as the proctors and the bishops had formed a combination little could be passed until the proctors were deprived of their votes, and he suggested that as a means of overcoming the resistance of the spirituality the king should send over a special commissioner to be present at the opening of the next session.鈥淪鈥s鈥淚
Acting on this suggestion a royal commission, consisting of Anthony St. Leger, George Poulet, Thomas Moyle, and William Berners, was dispatched to Ireland (July 1537) to deliver the following acts to be passed by Parliament, namely, acts depriving the spiritual proctors of their right to vote, and against the power of the Bishop of Rome, together with acts giving to the king the tax of one-twentieth on benefices, enforcing the use of the English language and dress, and prohibiting alliances with the "wild Irish." At the same time Henry wrote to the Deputy and council warning them to obey the instructions of the commissioners, and to the House of Lords ordering them to ratify the bills to be submitted, and telling them that if any member be unwilling to do so, "we shall look upon him with our princely eye as his ingratitude therein shall be little to his comfort." When Parliament met again in October the spiritual proctors were deprived of their votes, and it was only then that the Act against the Bishop of Rome could be carried. The threats of royal vengeance seem to have produced the same effects in the Dublin assembly as in the English Parliament. Probably, as happened in England, those who could not agree with the measures were content to absent themselves during the discussions. The truth is, therefore, that Archbishop Cromer was supported in his attitude by the bishops and the representatives of the clergy, and that the acts against the jurisdiction of the Pope were carried against the wishes of the spirituality.鈥淪鈥s鈥淚